Finally back in NL East play, slumping Mets host Nats

MLB

Despite everything that’s happened in between, Pete Alonso’s optimism about the Mets as they get ready to face the Nationals is just as bold as it was the last time New York opposed Washington.

The third-place Mets will look to avoid falling closer to the fourth-place Nationals in the National League East standings Friday night, when New York hosts Washington in the opener of a three-game series.

Left-hander Rich Hill (6-5, 4.13 ERA) is scheduled to start for the Mets against right-hander Paolo Espino (3-4, 4.28).

Both teams lost Thursday night. The host Mets continued their August nosedive when they were edged 3-2 by the San Francisco Giants while the visiting Nationals fell 7-5 to the Miami Marlins.

The Giants swept the three-game series from the Mets, who went 2-11 in 13 consecutive games against San Francisco and the other NL West titan, the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The Mets, who were a half-game out of first place as they headed into the NL West stretch following a three-game series sweep of the Nationals from Aug. 10-12, are 6-18 this month and have fallen 7 1/2 games behind the division-leading Atlanta Braves.

After sweeping the Nationals, Alonso said the Mets were “built to last.” His confidence appeared unshaken after doing his part over the past 14 games, during which Alonso batted .333 (19-for-57) with five homers and 11 RBIs while the rest of the Mets hit a combined .211 (89-for-422) with six homers and 31 RBIs.

“I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else with anybody else,” said Alonso, who hit a two-run homer in the sixth inning Thursday. “These guys are extremely gritty, hard-working and talented ballplayers. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it until I’m blue in the face: This is a huge test for us, these last five weeks, but every single day, there’s no one I’d rather be with than these guys.”

The Nationals, who embarked upon a rebuilding project at the trade deadline, have actually gained a game on the Mets in August despite going 6-16. But even though Washington no longer looks like the team that battled for NL East supremacy for most of the previous decade, 22-year-old outfielder Juan Soto still provides some cache as a must-see attraction.

Soto’s 433-foot, two-run homer in the fifth inning Thursday was his 10th blast since the All-Star break as well as his second-longest round-tripper of the year. The ball left the yard at a sizzling 114.1 mph, the hardest-hit homer of his career.

“It was pretty loud,” Soto said. “One of the things that I like to hear every time I hit the ball is just how loud it is.”

Hill took the loss last Saturday, when he gave up three runs over five innings as the Mets fell 4-3 to the Dodgers. Espino didn’t factor into the decision Saturday after allowing three runs over 4 1/3 innings in the Nationals’ 9-6 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers.

Hill is 2-3 with a 4.78 ERA in nine career games (six starts) against the Nationals, including 0-1 with a 7.00 ERA in two games (one start) this year. Espino is 1-0 with a 1.00 ERA in four lifetime games (two starts) against the Mets, including 1-0 with a 1.29 ERA in three games (two starts) in 2021.

–Field Level Media

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